The intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in south Minneapolis became famous when Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin killed a man named George Floyd by kneeling on his neck, right outside of Cup Foods.
The area has been closed to traffic since then, and has become a memorial to Floyd and other people who lost their lives to police brutality. To replace the haunting image of Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s windpipe, artists created a massive mural featuring Floyd’s face, ringed in the blaze of a massive sunflower, surrounded by the names of other victims. It’s become a national icon for the police reform movement that has arisen out of the ensuing protests.
The community has been keeping vigil over the site… and for good reason, as they saw on Tuesday, when somebody took a can of spray paint to the mural, blacking out the eyes and X-ing out the face.
According to Facebook posts and reports about the incident, the vandal did not quite get away with it scot-free. Surveillance video from Cup Foods, also posted on social media, shows a person with a can of spray paint scrambling away, flip flops discarded, as a bystander charges after him.
Disrespectful! This iconic art piece known to the whole world has just been vandalized!!! I am so thankful to Billy...Posted by Jeanette Doris-Marie Rupert on Tuesday, August 18, 2020
A Facebook post by Jeanette Doris-Marie Rupert identifies the pursuer as Billy Briggs (who is, as it happens, an occasional photographer for City Pages), who says he’d been lighting candles at the memorial when he saw a white guy in khaki shorts and a blue hoodie, “standing in front of Cup Foods and looking suspicious.”
“Adrenaline kicked in and I ran towards him yelling for security while giving chase,” Briggs wrote in his own Facebook post on Wednesday. “Unfortunately I didn’t make it very far because of my artificial hip. I did however run him outta his shoes!”
Tonight on 38th & Chicago I’m lighting candles at the George Floyd memorial when I noticed a white boy wearing khaki...Posted by Billy Briggs on Wednesday, August 19, 2020
The Star Tribune reported Thursday that the police had not been called about the vandalism. But Marcia Howard, a teacher and community volunteer who lives nearby, told Minnesota Reformer she’d also witnessed the incident, and saw a volunteer security guard chase the perpetrator down.
“When we find people or apprehend people even in the square, unlike the police we don’t beat their ass,” she explained to the Reformer. “What we do is we start asking them questions.”
Howard said the vandal “gleefully” posed for a picture and they “let him go barefoot into the night.” Community members have been sharing that photo on social media and demanding consequences. The can of spray paint, which had been discarded, was tossed into the trash for good measure.
The Reformer reached out to the man identified in the photo – a 26-year-old Rochester medical student named Daniel Michelson -- and got a response from his father, Joel, who told them Daniel was “in a safe place” and “wants to do everything he can to make restitution.”
In a subsequent interview with the Reformer, Daniel said he’d gotten drunk alone in his apartment and “didn’t realize” what he was doing – that he had no memory of the incident.
“This is definitely a turning point for me,” he said. “I was absolutely disgusted because that’s not at all representative of who I am or who I strive to be.”
He said he’s working with the surrounding community to figure out how to make up for this, and he’ll pay for repairs to the mural and “anything else,” even if it takes a while.
Howard, meanwhile, was skeptical about him being drunk and insensible.
“That motherfucker ran like he was Carl Lewis,” she said.
This is far from the first mural of George Floyd to be vandalized. Others have been graffitied in Rochester, Long Beach, Stoneham, and Portland.